How to become unstuck?
June 21, 2009 3:13 PM   Subscribe

breakup filter: It's been two months after the end of a nearly 6 year relationship (this was also my first relationship, ever). I'm still having trouble letting go, but he, evidently, is not. Help me stop comparing my now-self to my then-self, me to him, and who-he-left-me-for to what-I-was-worth-to-him.

6 years of supporting him, encouraging him, and being supported and encouraged by him have led to this: 3 months ago he started seeing someone else, 2 months ago he told me about it, and then decided that I was a tumor to be excised. He changed the locks on our shared apartment, stole most of my things, threw the rest in the lobby of the building, and is now introducing her to his family and friends, without telling them anything about what happened to us (unsolicited, his sister recently emailed me to find out the real story - thus setting off this bout of crying over this).

I have gotten my life back on track since then: I've cut-off all contact (after his sister's email, I finally defriended all his friends and relatives - I don't think anyone but his mother now has even so much as my email address), I've found a fantastic job in a new city where I have wonderful support, and I've started working out (I've gone from 1 mile to 3 mile runs!). I have more plans for the future involving taking drawing lessons, joining once I find a place to live, knitting thank-you sweaters for my friends and family, and getting a therapist once my benefits kick in. I am trying to do what needs to be done, and I'm trying to focus on the things that make me, as an individual, happy.

But the girl he left me for is also becoming a problem for me, in an unexpected way. She had been after him while I was living with him, and it was obvious to me (he always denied anything, and asked me "why don't you trust me?"), so I set out to meet her and try to diffuse my jealousy. And it worked! Because she was such a child. 10 years younger than my ex, still an undergrad in college (my ex was in the 3rd year of his PhD), and horribly awkward and nervous. Even my ex considered her ugly, and so I thought there wasn't really anything to worry about. And now, my self-doubt isn't coming from any comparisons of myself to her, but rather from the realizations of what my ex left me for. Was this all that it took to replace me? Six years of love, friendship, trust, support - everything I did for him, all replaced by this? A child - a naive, awkward, little girl with a crush?

On top of that, I can't seem to stop comparing how I'm dealing with this to what I know of how he's dealing with this. He's introduced his new girlfriend to his family - he's obviously not regretting ending a 6 year relationship to be with her, and it seems from this that he's not really thinking of me anymore at all. I think it's probably reasonable that I'm still thinking of him (it's only been 2 months for me...), but I would like to get some kind of mantra or something that I can repeat to myself when these sorts of comparisons come to mind. "This isn't helping" isn't helping, nor is "think about yourself" as I can't seem to force myself to do that when I'm in the pits. I need something stronger. It would help if it could cover "How could he do this to me" and "He could never have really loved me if he could treat me this way."

I am still somewhat just acting by rote through a lot of my life. I was initially excited about my job (it really is an amazing, fantastic job for me, and I can't believe it came along just when I needed it most), but even that's wearing off as I'm dwelling now on the past. Is this going to happen every time I go through a big change over the next year? When I move into a new apartment, when I start taking classes, or go on my first dates? What can I expect? How do I deal with this when it comes up? In six months time, I'd like to be independent again, and as strong or stronger than I ever was.

How do I get there from here? What can I repeat to myself when things start going downhill, emotions-wise?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (21 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
There was life before him, so there will be life after him.

I can't help with any of the other stuff.... Time will help. And it sounds like you have a lot going for you, which will help too :-)
posted by roxie5 at 3:33 PM on June 21, 2009 [1 favorite]

On top of that, I can't seem to stop comparing how I'm dealing with this to what I know of how he's dealing with this.

From experience, I can tell you he is seemingly fine because he has a crutch (the new girl). Unfortunately, until you move on, you will obsess about that fact. While it may feel like the last thing you want to do right now - GO OUT. HAVE FUN.
posted by gman at 3:35 PM on June 21, 2009

Although we are missing anyone else's perspective here, I can only take the information you've given me, and assuming it's true:

He treated you badly. I think that if you analyze the past before the breakup, he always treated you badly, in ways that you accepted or barely realized. He will probably treat her badly in the same ways (even if they marry), and you should pity her, because her naivete is going to get her what it got you. Please don't think of her as conniving to "take him away" from you, even if that's what she thought she wanted, because he is the active agent.

Three months is not a long time for getting over such a relationship. What you should try is allowing yourself to suffer, in exchange for refusing to do so at other times. Tell yourself you can always chew on this bone in a few hours, but now you want to get out to a book club, go on a date, etc . . . I also recommend the self-help works of Dr. David Burns, even though I hate self-help books. He's good for those of us who tend to dwell.
posted by Countess Elena at 3:39 PM on June 21, 2009 [4 favorites]

First of all, stop beating yourself up about this "it's been two months already!" business. If he started seeing someone a month before breaking up with you, he was probably thinking about ending the relationship for far longer, so there's no shame in not being as moved on as he is.

You've already done a lot of the most important things, notably cutting off contact. What about hiding/getting rid of/archiving things that trigger reactions for you? Probably just about everything in your everyday life reminds you of him in some way or another, but you can help things a bit by getting the really obvious stuff taken care of (any gifts, photos, emails, the fact that his name still shows up in autocomplete on your gmail... that sort of thing).

I never had a mantra (besides "Just fall asleep," when I was lying in bed at night, when I was most prone to start crying), but whenever I felt a really catastrophic breakdown coming, I immediately gathered my stuff and went to a public place. Maybe I just have above average social graces, but I could never sob or break down at my favorite coffee place. Even better is to just surround yourself with friends at all times, but sometimes that's not possible, and feeling like you have to can make the sadness worse.

I'm really sorry you have to go through this, but it sounds like you're already on the right track. I wish you the best.
posted by telegraph at 3:42 PM on June 21, 2009 [5 favorites]

Not to be cliche, but the fact that he's the type of person who would cheat on his girlfriend of 6 years, kick out his girlfriend, change the locks, steal her stuff, etc., means that you could clearly do much, much better. Maybe your relationship was good at times, but he must be an asshole deep inside his heart to be able to do that to you.
I know it will probably be impossible to feel this way, and I'm so sorry for what you're going through, but maybe you can think about it as dodging a bullet in a way. Say you were with him even longer and he did something like this after you had a marriage, or even kids. Now you're still young, relatively baggage-free, and eventually will be able to start fresh with someone better.
Everything you're doing right now sounds awesome, and a great way to start. Best of luck for your future!
posted by ishotjr at 3:51 PM on June 21, 2009 [2 favorites]

In truth, you have no idea at all of how he's dealing with this. You're creating a story in your own mind about how his current behaviour relates to your past relationship with him.

In similar situations, I've found that trying to move forward before I'm ready to do so is actually quite self-destructive - as is trying to distract myself with shiny new things. It tends to keep me stuck in grief much longer than if I'd just allowed myself to feel awful for as long as necessary because I compound the damage to my self-worth by adding a whole lot of unrealistic "shoulds" to the grief.

If you adopt a mantra to get you through difficult moments, make it one that is about you and not about him. I've found the 'Litany Against Fear' from Dune especially helpful when I've been feeling overwhelmed by uncertainty about the future. Other people find playing Gloria Gaynor's 'I will survive' or Madonna's 'You'll See" on a loop in their head helpful.

I remember reading once that we all live a lifetime of goodbyes so we should learn to say good ones and mourn well. There's considerable truth in that.

What are your strengths? Use them now and in six months time you may well find that your reaction to future big changes is anti-climactic. Try not to make assumptions now about how you'll feel when those changes happen in the future.

It's hard to imagine ever being happy again when you lose your first love, even though we're surrounded by evidence that people go on to survive and prosper after that loss. If you can't trust yourself to believe in that right now, then seek the company of those who are living proof of it and ask them how they found their way from where you are now to where they are now.

Above all, be kind to yourself.
posted by Lolie at 3:55 PM on June 21, 2009 [1 favorite]

Oh, wow. This has shades all over it of a situation which happened to me: moved in with boyfriend, he lost his job, I was supporting us both on my very meagre teacher's aide salary, he found a woman, and then subsequently he freaked out because someone mentioned to him that he had been seen out and about as a couple with me, and he couldn't deal with the homosexuality anymore. I came home one day to find him waiting outside the apartment while I tried my key in the (newly-changed) lock twice, before he told me that I didn't live there anymore. I had nothing more than the clothes on my back. He had also called my parents and my place of work and outlined to them everything he thought he could to alienate them from me. I had to call the sheriff to get my stuff back out of the apartment we had shared; his behavior was erratic enough that the landlady was afraid for the safety of her daughter without Johnny Law being present.

It took me about 2 years of severe, hermit-like introspection and quite a bit of occupational therapy to realize that, honestly, I had done NOTHING wrong in the relationship. I went over every moment of interaction, searching for a clue as to why I deserved this treatment from my lover. In the end, I determined I was not, in fact, deserving. HE was the asshole; I had approached every moment with love and respect and he shit on me. This realization was hard-won, and sticks with me to this day as my personal philosophy of life was deeply altered by the self-examination. Today, I can enter into any interaction with another human with confidence that, if I am only extending love and joy and acceptance, then any negative emotion I receive from the other person is originating within THEM, and not something which I inspired.

Still, to this day, I love and long for and miss this man, rest his soul. (He died a few years ago -- his wife actually called me to tell me. Turns out, I meant something to him after all and he felt horrible about his treatment of me.) I also have a beautiful hand-beaded guitar strap which took about 100 hours to create as I tried to work all this out.

I guess what I'm saying is, you'll never get over it, but you'll move on. Find a way to give yourself the time to learn whatever lessons about relationships that you might glean from the experience, it's okay to mourn the death of What You Thought Might Be. But above all else, if you're truly not to blame, it's okay to label him A Total Ass and move on with your life.

You also might want to find a rebound fling. Something not serious, something to distract you while you learn again that you're a worthy person who has been treated poorly, not an evil person who was justifiably removed "like a tumor" as you put it. Enter into this knowing it will run its course.

And remember,"time heals all wounds" is not a simple aphorism. You WILL feel better eventually. But that will be on your own timeframe, and might even happen more slowly than you wish. Hang in there.
posted by hippybear at 4:14 PM on June 21, 2009 [13 favorites]

And now, my self-doubt isn't coming from any comparisons of myself to her, but rather from the realizations of what my ex left me for. Was this all that it took to replace me?

This line of reasoning will make you crazy. You've been betrayed, and it doesn't matter if the person your ex betrayed you for is better or worse than you in any way (more/less supportive, more/less mature, more/less attractive, etc.), it's still going to be painful and you're still going to have to grieve. I don't have much more to say than that, I just wanted to encourage you not to look for logic where you won't find it, and not to dwell on things that won't bring you any peace (i.e., whether and how your ex has "replaced" you). Maybe your mantra could be, whenever thoughts of this new girl pop into your mind, "She's not part of my life; what do I need right now?" to try to refocus your mind on what you need to do to take care of yourself.
posted by Meg_Murry at 4:17 PM on June 21, 2009 [2 favorites]

In six months time, I'd like to be independent again, and as strong or stronger than I ever was.

Six months??!?

How about six minutes?

I think the first step is recognizing that you're already armed with everything you need. You'd like to be independent again? You're independent right now.

More pragmatically, I suggest you break out and take part in some kind of physically based activity with which you are unfamiliar. Are you a runner? Buy a bike. A writer? Get a camera. Afraid of heights? Go rock climbing.

I would like to get some kind of mantra or something

Photos of the ex + lighter fluid = a great mantra to get over someone.

posted by Cool Papa Bell at 4:17 PM on June 21, 2009 [2 favorites]

It sounds like you're doing a great job and doing what you need to do. There may be more you need to clear out of your life--after the breakup of my first relationship, I became a country music fan because music had been a big part of our relationship and the country station was the only one where I could feel confident I wouldn't be gut-punched by some memory-and-emotion-evoking song. And I was the one who'd done the breaking up!

As others have said, this reveals him as surprisingly screwed up. Don't assume he's moved happily on; he may very well be carrying brokenness into his new relationship with him. But you sound like a very mentally sound person with a lot of resources.

It may take longer than you expect to get over this. I remember after I experienced a loss a few years ago, I was surprised by how long it took me, and there was a stretch of a few months when I was asking myself "What's wrong with me? Why can't I move on?" A few months later, it was clear that I had just needed a bit more time.

As far as comparing yourself to the new girlfriend, stop it! Remember that sometimes, for reasons that seem inexplicable to the rest of us, people do seek out relationships with people who are not as smart, not as together, not as cute--if she's younger and on the naive side, maybe he is enjoying being looked up to, or being able to take a leadership role in the relationship. Whatever drew him to her, it may or may not be a healthy functional attraction. But that is not your problem. As the great Highway 101 song goes, "He's someone else's trouble now."
posted by not that girl at 4:20 PM on June 21, 2009 [2 favorites]

For anyone who might find themselves in the situation the OP found herself in, or hippybear found himself in: It is completely illegal for your SO/roommate/whatever to change the locks on your home and tell you that you don't live there anymore. It doesn't matter if your name isn't on the lease. It doesn't matter if you haven't been paying rent. If you've lived there any amount of time, you cannot be summarily evicted in this manner and a simple call to the police will get you back in your home. I just don't want anyone else to find themselves in this situation.
posted by Justinian at 4:21 PM on June 21, 2009 [2 favorites]

I didn't have a mantra, but my break-up coping process was this: whenever I would find myself beginning to dwell, or find my thoughts spiraling downward or getting increasingly depressive, I would stop and visualize capturing my thought and putting it aside (some people imagine capturing it and putting it in a box, but - as a Harry Potter fan - I would picture pulling it out of my head and putting it in a pensieve). It's really important to face those emotions, though. I would put aside a little time each day, half an hour or forty-five minutes at night, turn off my phone and computer and TV and pull out all of these thoughts and emotions and think them through, and allow that little time to dwell on it, to figure out what my emotions were telling me and were I was at with the whole process.

It's not an easy thing to do, and probably sounds a little silly and overly planned, but structure is exactly what you need when you start to dwell. It really helped me carry on during the days and still take the time to actually face what I was going through.

It sounds like you're doing great so far, and it sounds like you have a good support network, which is so important. Stay positive. This too will pass.
posted by katopotato at 4:26 PM on June 21, 2009

I find handy any reflection on the fact that your life is still tickin' on by even as you indulge shitty thoughts about what was and could have been. If those thoughts are productive - if you're learning something from them that can be of benefit in informing future actions - then sure, reflect away; but if they're unproductive and you're just winding up in the pits, it might be worth remembering that life's got an expiry date, and screw it, he's made his decision, for better or for worse (only time will tell), and it/he isn't worth wasting YOUR time anguishing over.
posted by springbound at 4:44 PM on June 21, 2009 [1 favorite]

Not a mantra, but when I'm feeling over-anxious and can't get control of my thoughts, I sometimes take a moment or two do two or three "yoga breaths" (Wikipedia on Ujjayi breathing). Something about taking a moment to be very mindful of your physical presence and existence makes it a lot easier to go back to the kind of thought patterns that are actually productive.
posted by samthemander at 4:53 PM on June 21, 2009 [1 favorite]

Hippybear hit the nail on the head. Some of his key points that deserve reiterating:

Sometimes people just snap. It's not your fault and it does not reflect on you as a person.

You may always love him. You won't love the jerk who ended it like this, but you might remember with love the man he was before for the rest of your life. That's ok. In fact, that makes you a more beautiful and lovable person.

Rebound flings are good! Make sure it's strictly fun, though, and outline that at the very beginning for your partner's benefit. It may not surprise you that men frequently greet with enthusiasm the news that all you want from them is sex and fun.

This, too, shall pass. But probably not tomorrow. No one in their right mind would expect you to be "over it" already. Take your time. I personally tend to grieve for 1/6 the duration of the relationship. 3 years together? 6 months healing. YMMV, but allow yourself at least a year before you start thinking "why am I not over this?"

Lastly, the distance you've come so far is beyond impressive. You are clearly a very strong woman. You can do this. And it pretty much goes without saying that the man you describe didn't deserve you. Now you're free to find someone who does.
posted by philotes at 4:54 PM on June 21, 2009 [4 favorites]

I'm so sorry you're going through this. When I had something similar happen to me, the book How to Survive the Loss of a Love helped a lot. It's a little hokey, but I think it might (sort of) fit your request for a mantra. I'd pull it out when I was feeling down or right before bed when my thoughts started swirling out of control, and it helped me tremendously.
posted by pitseleh at 4:58 PM on June 21, 2009

You might get over it, or might not, but most likely you will. Engaging with his new gal ultimately makes you more emotionally involved, not less; now you'll have to go through withdrawal from both of them. I think you've got good coping skils though. Especially super congrads on the running. Keep it up, you'll be fine. Focus your therapy not on the past with either of them, but either on your family or even better your present relationship with your therapist - try to master recognizing your emotions as they are happening in the therapy room - then try to recognize ways you try to control therapy - not that you have to change your methods - but to build your awareness. Let go of the sob story, it doesn't befit you. You're doing fine and though it takes time will gradually be more and more centered in your present.
posted by peter_meta_kbd at 5:10 PM on June 21, 2009

If a good friend told you that this happened to her, what would you say to her?
posted by k8t at 6:02 PM on June 21, 2009

I think it's important to realize that you really didn't get any closure here. (And that in this case, you may not ever get it, because he's an ass).

Him doing it like he did, and keeping your stuff!, parading his new gf around while you had to deal with the fallout...

then you moving and getting the new job, throwing yourself into things, de-friending his family and friends (good on you for picking yourself up, babe), doing the things that actually mean, I AM MOVING ON...

IMO, (and having BTDT) when you have physically moved on but not mentally moved on, you create an environment in your head where it's okay to torture yourself with the details of how much fun they're having, how he's treating her so much better than you, etc. but you also put pressure on yourself to appear to the rest of the world as if you're fine, and you're not. This is exhausting, and you have to stop it.

Some people don't believe in mantras, but I do. I believe you can talk yourself up just as well as you can talk yourself down. Here, I don't know what will work exactly for you, so I can only suggest this: Remember:

He's a dick, no matter what great little moments you had or thought you had (definitely not trying to be harsh to you, Anon). He is a shallow little person who is INCAPABLE of understanding how much he has hurt you. He will pull his bullshit on her. She isn't better than you, she is just the next you. Empty people who hurt others without any remorse feed on sweet people such as yourself, and leave them licking their wounds, wondering what happened, while they move on to the next person.

It's not you, it's him.

I can also offer that I understand how it feels to know that you were terribly wronged and that you'll never get a proper apology (or your stuff back. Yes, stuff if just stuff, but the loss of your personal possessions is traumatic). This is where the phrase "come to terms with it" comes into play. The very best you can do, I think, is to give someone else the apology that you'll never get. It was really cathartic for me to do that, so I'm just throwing that out there.

(If you absolutely must give in to thoughts of them) Think of how she will now have to deal with the gross way he eats his food or the fact that his family is crazy. Take a deep breath, conjure up some more of that strong grace you've already shown, and give her your pity. You'll find someone waaay better, and they will still be stuck with themselves.

You said this was your first real relationship, and that's a doozy. I know it hurts, but I promise it will get better. You're freshly hurt and have taken amazing strides already. Keep going.
posted by Grlnxtdr at 6:36 PM on June 21, 2009 [5 favorites]

I was in a similar situation a few years ago -- the guy I'd been with for two years left me for someone younger. In fact, he slept with her the day after Valentine's Day, said nothing about it for a week, and then finally called me -- two days before my birthday -- and both confessed to it and broke up with me over the phone.

I similarly went into an all-out "fuck him, then" mode where I got busy with friends, self-improving, etc. -- but I also still got backlashes of wondering "jesus, what the hell kind of loser am I that that loser actually was the one to break up with me instead of vice-versa?" In my case, I also felt old for the first time -- my ex and I had been celibate for the whole year previous, by his choice, and so that also did a number on my psyche.

I'm afraid I can't offer any tips or mantras -- only the promise that it does get better. You do get moments of wondering about yourself, especially if it's only been two months -- but you're doing exactly the right thing to handle it and taking exactly the right approach and taking exactly the right attidue. It's okay to feel upset about this time to time -- you are already handling that upset the best possible way you can, and only time can take you the rest of the way.

good luck.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:21 PM on June 21, 2009 [1 favorite]

I recommend When Things Fall Apart in addition to the wonderful How To Survive the Loss of a Love mentioned above. I also read all the cheesy girly breakup books, like It's Called a Breakup Because it was Broken, and Breakup Girl to the Rescue. Bits and pieces of them helped. And the sooner you can get into therapy, the better.

Two months is not long enough. But I think you will probably be okay by six months.

Recognizing that you didn't get closure from him (and likely never will) is very important, so that you can create your own closure. My ex ended things in a similar sudden fashion (we didn't live together, so I had that going for me for three weeks until my roommate decided to kick me out) and it took me about four months to create my own closure, realizing that I was never going to learn Why. The problem is, it seems like this comes from introspection and obsession, and it really comes from saying, "No, I don't know why and I'm never going to. Doesn't matter why. It is." and repeating that until it rang true.
posted by peanut_mcgillicuty at 7:26 PM on June 21, 2009 [1 favorite]

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